Little Things That Matter

A new collaboration between leading trim manufacturer YKK and sourcing platform Oceanworks endeavours to take on the marine plastic waste challenge, one zipper at a time.

The plastic fork, humble q-tip or the juice box straw. Who would have imagined that such seemingly inconsequential items of our day-to-day life would one day choke entire marine ecosystems? It turns out that the small, ubiquitous things do matter.

But this maxim goes both ways, and the positive interpretation has been championed for decades by another maker of small, ubiquitous things. Check your jacket zipper, and the chances are you’ll find the three-letter moniker: Y.K.K. After 26 years of diverting plastic waste streams with its “Natulon” line of fasteners, made of recycled PET bottles, a new collaboration with the sourcing platform Oceanworks aims to expand Y.K.K.’s field of engagement to include marine plastic pollution.

Suston reached out to Category Manager Mike Maekawa from Y.K.K. to learn more:

Suston: The environmental impacts of garment trims such as zippers and other fasteners probably fly under the radar of the average person, even those particularly concerned with sustainability. Can you help bring us up to speed on the importance of paying attention to the impacts of the little things?

Mike Maekawa: Since the establishment of the YKK Environmental Pledge in 1994, we have examined every aspect of YKK’s business operations, including product development, manufacturing processes, and the entire supply chain to make it more sustainable. Zippers, being highly mechanical components, use a wide range of materials – synthetic fiber, molded plastic, and metal specifically engineered to deliver their intended function at the highest level. Any new sustainable material we use in our products must go through thorough assessments in order to maintain the top quality YKK is known for.  Our endeavor to become more sustainable as a company has always been in parallel with ensuring the highest quality products. We believe that well-made, long-lasting zippers contribute to extending the life cycle of products, which helps to reduce their environmental impact more than anything. We believe that this parallel approach of having the highest possible sustainability value in our products while continuing to offer the best quality makes for the most environmentally sound products. We would like readers to understand this philosophy runs through not only zippers but every product we make – because little parts can really make big difference.

Suston: What have been the impacts of Natulon over the last 2 decades?

Mike Maekawa: Natulon, our fastening products made from recycled material, has been growing steadily since its birth in 1997, with substantial increases in demand seen over the last 5 years. Fortunately, we have been able to partner with the leading brands in multiple segments, including outdoor, sports as well as fashion as the regular users of Natulon.  Patagonia and Nike have been two of the brands that have been using Natulon for over a decade now. Since Natulon’s  inception to the time of writing [April 2020], YKK has diverted 31.2 million PET bottles from going into landfills by upcycling them into Natulon zippers.

Suston: How is this product news being received, and what kind of impacts is it estimated to have on marine plastic waste?

Mike Maekawa: Since its launch, we have had a great deal of interest in Natulon Ocean Sourced from multiple brands. However, the onset of the coronavirus pandemic has affected both our supply chain of the product and the adoption by brands. Although we have no clear timeline on when we can regain the traction, we are hoping to turn as much ocean bound plastic into our zippers as possible. It is estimated that one million Natulon Ocean Sourced zippers help to divert 4 tons of plastic from floating into the ocean. While that seems like a lot of zippers, it’s a drop in the bucket. Last year YKK produced 10 billion zippers, so little parts can add up to a big impact.


Photos: Oceanworks



More Stories

Packaging, all this packaging!

In Europe, 178 kg of packaging is used per person annually and rising. The outdoor industry needs to get a grip on its waste issue.

By Joel Svedlund

Keeping Polyester in the Loop

PET bottles can’t fuel the circular apparel economy alone. Closing the loop means we need to recycle apparel – and lots of it. Demeto might be part of the answer.

By Jonathan Eidse

Solar Solutions in Vietnam

Wouldn’t it be great if a group of Western brands sharing the same manufacturers in Vietnam would say: “Hey, let’s collaborate to switch out fossil energy and invest in solar power on the rooftops of the Vietnamese facilities!” Good news: this is already happening.

By Gabriel Arthur

Waves of Activism

The temperature is rising – more and more people in the outdoor community choose to take a stand. Cira Riedel from Suston’s collaboration partner Greenroom Voice shares how an activist camp changed her vision of the ocean – and what needs to be done.

By Cira Riedel

More News

Sign up for Suston Monthly!

Get the latest sustainability news and stories from the outdoor community delivered free to your inbox with the Suston Monthly newsletter.

Sign up for our newsletter